The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, at the Poor Clare Monastery in Alexandria.
Each year, on this octave day of Christmas, which is also the first day of a new civil year, the sacred liturgy clearly directs our focus to Mary, the Mother of God. Likewise, in a similar way, the new liturgical year places Mary before us very soon after its beginning on the First Sunday of Advent by celebrating on December 8 Mary's Immaculate Conception. Why this unmistakable focus on Mary so early in each of these new years, liturgical and civil? The reason is clear: Mary leads us to the Savior, the Son of God and her Son. Mary shows us how to be a true disciple of Jesus and how to reach God, because she is the first and best disciple. How right Saint Bernard was when he instructs us: "Respice ad Mariam" — "Look up to Mary" and "Ipsam contemplans, non erras" — "Contemplating her, you do not go astray."
Dear Mother Abbess and Sisters, in a very special way, you are entrusted to Our Blessed Lady because your monastery is named the Monastery of Mary, Mother of the Church. Today's closing prayer will evoke this very title among us: "Father, as we proclaim the Virgin Mary to be the mother of Christ and the mother of the Church, may our communion with her Son bring us to salvation."
Dear Mother Abbess and Sisters, yours is a privileged place within this diocesan Church of Arlington! By your unceasing prayer and penance within this cloister, you not only open yourselves to the sanctifying power of Jesus our Savior, becoming holy as He is holy, but also, in a way too deep for us to understand fully, you assist the rest of us within this diocesan Church to be open to this same sanctifying power of Jesus our Savior, to becoming holy ourselves. Yes, keeping your eyes on Mary and helping us to do the same, we each can become more faithful disciples of the Lord.
Last year, in his homily for this Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Pope Benedict XVI observed: "At the beginning of a new year, we are invited, as it were, to attend her school, the school of the faithful disciple of the Lord, in order to learn from her to accept in faith and prayer the salvation God desires to pour out upon those who trust in His merciful love."
Yes, this monastery — more precisely, you who are her members — is a veritable powerhouse of grace for the Church of Arlington. With the assistance of your prayer and penance, may each one of us imitate Mary and become more attentive and sensitive each day to the saving presence of God in our lives. The words of today's first reading from the Book of Numbers are intended to be real and effective within us: "The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!" And they will be real and effective if we consciously live in God's presence.
Being attentive and sensitive to God's saving presence like Mary will help us to accept and to respond to God's will as it unfolds each day, often in the ordinary and mundane circumstances of our lives and sometimes in ways mysterious and unexpected. Assist us, dear Mother Abbess and Sisters, by your prayer and penance, so that by doing God's will, each member of this diocesan Church, beginning with me, her chief pastor, may be more faithful to the individual vocation given us. Moreover, may those among us who are being called to particular vocations hear the Lord's invitation and respond with generous and willing hearts, whether that call be to the single chaste life, the married life, the consecrated life or the priesthood.
Being attentive and sensitive to God's saving presence like Mary will also help the members of this diocesan Church to be heralds of the Gospel of life and instruments of true charity to all those in need and to those among us from other countries. They are not strangers, but brothers and sisters, in whom Christ abides, and through whom He comes to us in disguise.
Being attentive and sensitive to God's saving presence like Mary will enable us to be peacemakers in a world so torn by violence and warfare, struggle and unrest. Today is also the World Day of Peace, and our Holy Father is inviting us to reflect on the theme he has chosen: "The human person, the heart of peace." He entrusts his urgent prayer for all humanity to the Queen of Peace, the Mother of Jesus Christ, "our peace." The pope adds: "May Mary show us, in her Son, the way of peace, and enlighten our vision, so that we can recognize Christ's Face in the face of every human person, the heart of peace!" (cf. Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace: January 1, 2007, no. 17).
Yes, Mary, the first and best disciple, shows us how to be faithful disciples of the Lord, how to live each day attentive and sensitive to God's saving presence made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord. Each day during this new year of 2007, let us keep our eyes on Mary, the Mother of Christ and the Mother of the Church, and therefore, our Mother. Like her, may we reflect on God's Word and do His will as we continue to walk in faith, hope and love towards the salvation which Jesus won for us by shedding His blood, beginning with His circumcision. May we one day arrive at our eternal home, there to see face to face forever the Savior and Lord Whom Mary holds before us each day. Amen.